Beckham's football antics lift spirits of Philippines typhoon survivors

TANAUAN, Philippines - David Beckham lifted the spirits of young Philippine typhoon survivors on Friday with a joke-filled game of football on a pitch surrounded by somber reminders of the country's deadliest storm.

The former England captain carried boys on his shoulders, tugged at their shirts and exchanged high-fives throughout the roughly 20 minutes of sports therapy at one of the coastal towns that was worst hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan three months ago.

The game came at the end of a two-day trip for Beckham to the typhoon-hit zones in the central Philippines, where 6,200 people have been confirmed killed and nearly 1,800 others remain missing.

"It's very uplifting, to the hearts, to the souls of the children. After all they have been through the past three months, with the storm, when he came, it was so good. We were so very happy," local football coach Basil Nudalo told AFP.

The game was played on the sports field of a ruined school in Tanauan, one of the towns facing the Pacific Ocean that were engulfed by tsunami-like storm surges.

More than 1,200 people died just in Tanauan, and the game was played within walking distance of a mass grave where the bodies of hundreds of people were buried.

The shells of school buildings, ripped coconut trees and piles of rocky debris surrounded the pitch, but inside there was constant laughter from Beckham and the boys.

Beckham was visiting the typhoon-hit areas in his role as a "goodwill ambassador" for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), which has been playing an important role in the recovery and rehabilitation programme.

Earlier on Friday, Beckham visited dozens of mothers with their babies at a health care centre in Tanauan.

UNICEF ensured high security for Beckham's visit, trying to block journalists from filming his visits into survivors' homes and relief centres.

Aside from one brief comment, Beckham declined to talk to reporters but UNICEF posted comments of his on their official website in which he thanked people around the world for donating money for Haiyan survivors.

Beckham says thanks for donations

"As a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, seeing how children are being given a sense of normality amidst the rubble of their communities has been amazing," he said in a UNICEF blog.

"I want to show people around the world how their generous donations have had an enormous impact on children and their families and how thankful people here are for their kindness."

The United Nations launched an international aid appeal in December for US$788 million (S$996.5 million) to finance its humanitarian effort for this year, about half of which has been raised.

President Benigno Aquino has said the rebuilding effort will take at least four years and require more than US$8 billion in funding.

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